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The oldest (and most popular) profession

Legalise Prostitution

Patrick Guntensperger

Parksville, BC, Canada


Despite the contents of this and previous columns, I refuse to describe myself as a “libertarian”. If the meaning of libertarianism could ever be narrowed down (forget defined, that will never happen to anyone’s satisfaction), it might be an apt word for my politics, but I don’t share very much political thought with avowed libertarians like say, Ron Paul, or other wingnuts for whom libertarianism actually means rudderless chaos. Consequently I don’t like any of the acknowledged political categories but am content to be outraged by elements of every aspect of the political spectrum.

just a hard working girl

Legalise, regulate, protect

That said, today I want to advocate a far less controversial (than some previous ones) proposal for Canada and the US and any civilised country…uncivilised ones are generally ahead of us on this one…the straightforward, unambiguous legalisation of prostitution. It’s not particularly controversial because many civilised countries have already done so; famously Holland, but also other European countries, the eastern half of Australia, Singapore; Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia and many other Latin American countries have legal prostitution; even one of the United States, Nevada, has a byzantine and deeply corrupt legal toleration of prostitution; the notion isn’t entirely radical. But I specify straightforward and unambiguous because of some of the odd convolutions in the prostitution legislation. Forget Nevada…nobody understands it and it only serves to enrich the politically connected in a few counties.

Canada? Very Canadian. Strictly speaking prostitution is not illegal, nor is it against the law to solicit. But to solicit persistently and aggressively is illegal (and very un-Canadian); to live off the avails of prostitution or inhabit a common bawdy house…these are prohibited. So let’s just get it done. Let’s write the law in a simple straightforward manner that permits the profession to exist with the same level of oversight and professional standards that govern any other legitimate business.

Before the words “oldest profession” pop up and before anyone bothers to point out that prostitution has been around since the dawn of humanity and has never been successfully suppressed, let me emphasise that neither the venerability of the profession nor its ability to survive attempts at eradication play a part in my argument that its practice ought to be a perfectly legal endeavour. That it has a long history and that we haven’t it eliminated after millennia of trying is not sufficient reason to legalise or even tolerate anything. Murder and theft have equally illustrious and ancient histories and have been outlawed for even longer; I certainly don’t support their legalisation out of a sense of failure to eradicate; no that’s all true; it’s just not good enough.

I support the legalisation of prostitution for several reasons, the first of which is the libertarian one: there is no reason to prohibit it.

No reasonable person today subscribes to the notion that sex between consenting adults is intrinsically wrong. Most people think it’s a great idea and a good many spend much of their disposable time and income in the pursuit of exactly that activity. The idea that one of the participants in sexual activity may honestly charge money for that participation is entirely reasonable. The very idea of commerce and exchange is that one party offers goods or services in exchange for money. Presuming both parties perform as agreed; one might even argue (Edmund Burke did, so did Jean Jacques Rousseau) that we have seen the basis of civilisation at work.

Let's make a deal

an oral contract is made

It is almost beyond argument that the social costs of prostitution are directly connected to the illegality of the profession and that those costs can certainly be mitigated and possibly even eliminated with thoughtful legalisation and oversight. Beyond the sex itself, what are the evils commonly quoted as reasons to outlaw the profession? Exploitation of women? Legalise and regulate prostitution. STDs? Legalise and regulate. Underage prostitutes? Legalise and regulate. Drug use? Legalise and regulate. Degeneration of neighbourhoods? Legalise and regulate. An underground economy that contributes nothing in the way of tax revenue? Legalise and regulate. The social ostracisation of sex-trade workers? Legalise and regulate. Every single one of the reasons to prohibit prostitution, apart from the ones that have to do with an inexplicable aversion to the very idea of sex, can be addressed by making it an honourable, proud, tax paying, and legal profession.

But the second reason I strongly advocate the legalisation and regulation of prostitution is that I have great respect and affection for women. And people in general. I am fully cognisant of the fact that a great deal of prostitution is male to male; or male to female; or transgender to male; or transgender to…oh  well, you get the idea. And I fully support the legalisation of the profession in whatever form it takes as long as adulthood and consent are prerequisites. But since the overwhelming number of prostitutes are women and most of their clients men, I am focussing this discussion on that segment of the industry. And it is largely women who are the victims of the fact that prostitution is illegal.

Not far from where I live, a man named Robert (Willie) Pickton, picked up streetwalkers on

Pig farmer, butcher, serial killer

Willie Pickton slaughtered and butchered young women

Vancouver’s seedy east side, took them back to his semi-urban farm, raped, slaughtered, butchered, and in some cases cured or ground their remains and sold them with his specialty meat products. He was eventually arrested and tried. He has been convicted of six of those murders, he is charged with 20 more and claims that he is responsible for 49 and was about to kill his 50th, but got caught because he was “getting sloppy”.

girls at work

plying their trade and avoiding Willie

He plied his grisly trade of serial murder for about twenty years in precisely the same area and without varying his methods. He was known among the working girls of the district as someone to be avoided, and yet he carried on for decades with seeming impunity. The police, including the RCMP, put little effort or time into tracking down one of the world’s most prolific serial killers; in fact it took years to persuade the local police that there was even a pattern to the disappearances of the women. Because the women were prostitutes and many were drug users and many were Native American, the police took the view that they were a highly mobile and unimportant sector of society. They come and go all the time. They were a nuisance and not terribly missed by anyone but their families and friends.

Had their trade been legal and well-regulated, most, if not all, of these women would be alive today. It is without question that the status of prostitution under the law contributed to if not caused them to be targets for Willie Pickton. Prostitutes, because the lack of legitimacy of their profession, are by far the favourite prey of serial killers. Like Pickton, the very first celebrity serial killer, Jack the Ripper, hunted down and slaughtered exclusively streetwalkers. The laws that force women employed in the sex trade to walk the streets at night, out of sight of the police, furtively seeking out the hidden, secret spots in the worst parts of a city couldn’t be better designed to turn them into the ideal victims of a sexual sadist and murderer. Legalise, regulate, and protect.

Beyond serial killers, street sex workers are often exploited by pimps, or bad dates. Whether the exploitation is the parasitic type exemplified by the pimp who runs a string of girls or the bad date who gets off on hurting women, that exploitation is easily minimised. Legalise, regulate, and protect.

On a more sociological level, the objection is that the legal demonisation of prostitution is one more of society’s intrusions into people’s control over what they do with their own bodies. It is simply offensive that society can tell me, or you, or anyone with whom they are permitted to have sex. And the issue of money changing hands is the most curious one of all. Everybody knows that money and sex are inextricably intertwined and always have been. The old chestnut goes like this: a man asks if a woman would marry him for a million dollars; upon being told yes, he asks if she would sleep with him for ten. She demands to know what kind of a woman she is and he responds that that has been established; all they were doing now was negotiating price.

The justifications for the legalisation of prostitution could just keep coming almost indefinitely. But I want to finish with just one more point. To make an act illegal, that act has to be defined absolutely clearly. There is something comical about elected officials spending their time parsing sentences with legal seriousness in an effort to describe just when, let’s say a massage, steps over the line and becomes a prohibited sex act. When the man sports an erection? If the masseuse touches it? Suppose he touches it? Orgasm? How ridiculous can we get? Phone sex?

No, it isn’t enough simply to turn a blind eye to prostitution. Countries like Canada where it is tolerated but not legalised and regulated are far from being the example to follow…it is the tolerance of prostitution while driving it underground that allowed Willie Pickton to slaughter so many young women. All civilised countries should step up and pass regulatory legislation that will protect the public as well as the sex workers and recognise that it is the right thing to do; it is right morally, socially, and it is right practically.





Vancouver Shows Her True Colours

Dr.  Jekyll’s Back

Patrick Guntensperger

 VANCOUVER, CANADA – Only hours after a hockey riot tore downtown Vancouver apart, leading to hundreds of arrests, smashed windows, looted stores, several burnt and overturned cars – including at least 2 police cars, and an uncounted number of injuries, the West Coast Canadian city has once again demonstrated why it has repeatedly been ranked among the most liveable cities in the world.
The morning after the violence, thousands of ordinary Vancouverites once again flocked to the city centre; this time they were bearing brooms, shovels, and garbage bags. Volunteers, not organised, and mostly strangers to one another worked together to put the lustre back on what was just three days ago one of the world’s most beautiful cities. Unasked and unrecruited, an estimated 15,000 people took to the streets on a workday and began the process of sweeping up the broken glass, painting over scorched and soot covered fenestration on businesses and residences, and helping merchants board over or replace their broken storefront windows.
Denise Ryan of Postmedia news reported that city maintenance workers noted the first volunteer showed up at 5 AM with a broom and some bags and simply said, “Where do you want me?” Throughout the day more and more people arrived, one woman with forty brooms to distribute to less-prepared volunteers, dozens of others, including elderly suburban residents, arrived bearing Tim Horton’s coffee and donuts for the ad hoc cleanup crew. Downtown Vancouver, being on the west coast, also saw volunteers arrive with supplies of granola and herbal tea for tired, unpaid and anonymous workers.
By the afternoon, the downtown core, which had resembled a war zone, had begun to take on a festive air; boarded up storefronts were decorated with colourful positive messages. “We love Van!” was seen swabbed in calligraphy on many of the damaged businesses that had to be boarded up pending permanent repairs. As the cleanup took on a party atmosphere, buskers began to arrive to entertain the volunteers who seemed never to take a break; they even refused the coins the volunteers tried to toss their way.
Within a single working day, most evidence of the hockey riots had disappeared or been beautified. Meanwhile several websites have been opened to help identify the hooligans responsible for the destruction. Hundreds of videos were shot of the carnage – some, unbelievably, by the rioters themselves who also had the profound intelligence to post them on the web. In dozens of cases the looters’ faces are clearly visible, giving high fives for the camera as they do their damage. Arrests are, of course, imminent.
Thanks to all those who contributed; your efforts have done much to redeem Vancouver in the wake of the damage done. Once again people can be proud of this city.

Vancouver Distinguishes Itself

Excuse me, may I set your car on fire?
Patrick Guntensperger
Vancouver, BC

If asked, most Canadians would tell you that hockey is Canada’s national sport. All you need to do is visit a Canadian city still in contention for the Stanley Cup playoffs in the springtime to experience the passion Canadians have for their sport. If you had been anywhere near a television when the Canadian hockey teams – both men’s and women’s – won gold at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, there would be very little question in your mind about the place hockey holds in the hearts of Canadians.
The fact that lacrosse is actually Canada’s national sport is irrelevant to the ferocity with which Canadians cling to the notion that we own hockey as a birthright. Oh, Canadians are willing to share – to a certain small extent – that notion with certain American teams. After all, the big six teams in the pre-expansion NHL included representation by only two Canadian cities: Montreal and Toronto; the other four teams were domiciled south of the border in Chicago, New York, Boston, and Detroit. Of course, as any true Canadian will hasten to tell you, the teams consisted virtually entirely of Canadian born players; players who had been brought up somewhere between Bonavista and Victoria, playing with their Dads on painstakingly watered and frozen over backyards before sunrise every morning before school.
Moreover, the “National” in National Hockey League (NHL) refers to the nation to the north of the border; everyone knows that! The greatest rivalry in hockey’s glory years was the decades long feud between the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs; even those team names scream out who’s sport it is.
But what else are Canadians known for? Somewhat uncharitably, Canadians have often been described as bland. Canadians, of course, would prefer to see themselves as reserved, or even inoffensive. I’d have to admit that bland may not be too far off the mark, however. I’ve never heard, for example, of a couple who are deciding to dine adventurously spontaneously blurting out, “I know! Let’s eat Canadian!”
Nevertheless, anyone who has visited the Great White North is likely to agree that Canadians are characterised by a self-effacing, quiet reserve and general politeness. An American friend once said to me, not entirely approvingly, that Canadians actually say “Thank you,” to ATMs. Larger Canadian cities have fewer traffic problems than cities of comparable size and modernity anywhere else in the world. The reason? Canada is a charter member of the Benevolent Drivers Association. Traffic snarls are rarer in Canada simply because it is more common for a driver in Canada with the right of way to wave another driver on than it is in other countries.
Vancouver last night demonstrated that Canada’s reputation for kindness, politeness and self restraint is an easily scuffed and all too thin surface plating.
Last night was the seventh and final game in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The perennial bridesmaids, the Vancouver Canucks (Canadian enough team name?) lost that game to the Boston Bruins. The reaction in the city of Vancouver was far from the stereotypical reserved and self controlled Canadian restraint. Approximately 70,000 people congregated in the centre of the city and rioted most of the night, cars were overturned and burned, store windows smashed, and Vancouver General Hospital had to set up a triage centre in the parking lot to accommodate the intake of injured people.
The extent and violence of the riot rivalled anything seen at any soccer game or even regime change in a Third World country.
The sheer, blind, stupidity of the mouthbreathing morons who saw an opportunity for mayhem and leapt upon it is astonishing. It is humiliating to Canadians and demeaning to the sport that is part of our lifeblood. These are not hockey fans…any excuse for violent, alcohol and testosterone fueled idiocy would suffice. These are thugs and cowards who even came prepared with balaclavas so they could wreak their violence and hide from prosecution in the anonymity they sought.
You have diminished our country in our own hearts and in the eyes of the world.

Limping along

Patrick Guntensperger
Not long ago I was living in Jakarta and frequently had to travel to Singapore on routine and business matters. The two cities, although not far apart geographically, could hardly be more different. Forests have been levelled to accommodate the published treatises on the differences between Singaporean and Jakartan traffic, signage,  law enforcement, politics, cuisine, culture, economics, education, infrastructure, domestic and foreign policies, and character; I only want to address one minor issue: the ease of walking around in these two great southeast Asian cities. And only because it relates to the real subject at hand.
In Jakarta I had a car and driver. That’s neither unusual nor arrogant conspicuous consumption in Jakarta. Virtually everyone above the poverty level, or at least virtually everyone who owns a car, also employs a driver. As a consultant, a political analyst for a number of publications, and a teacher of writing and journalism at a number of universities, I had appointments all over the city at odd hours and needed both.
Jakarta, of course, is legendary for its traffic. By some estimates a million vehicles a year are introduced to the steadily deteriorating streets of Indonesia’s capital and very little is being done to improve the crumbling roads. Combine that with an endemic utter disregard for traffic regulations, signs, and lights, along with an absolute dearth of courtesy on the roads, and you have a recipe for near-permanent gridlock.
Don’t even think about public transportation.
Unfortunately, walking to your destination is simply not an option in most cases. In those areas where there were supposed to be sidewalks, the pedestrian walkways are occupied by kiosks selling noodles, cigarettes, or pre-paid phone cards. Between them are beggars with their sarongs spread, upon which their babies sprawl looking properly emaciated. In between are breaks in the ancient stones that once formed the pedestrian surface, exposing sewers some two meters below, with reinforcing rods projecting from the shafts through which the unwary would fall.
Anyone foolhardy enough to walk in downtown Jakarta is thus forced to walk on the streets where it is always open season on pedestrians. The only upside is that traffic is so frequently at a dead standstill, that doing one’s broken-field running through the traffic is relatively safe most times; until of course a space opens up and several motorist scramble for it with utter disregard for the pedestrian running for his life. Or one of the motorcyclists (who outnumber the car drivers) decides to open yet another lane of traffic, perhaps across the lobby of a building or through and open door to a kiosk.
The result, of course, is that you tend to spend a great deal of time in your car. Time that otherwise would be spent strolling around and taking in the sights of what is arguably the most exotic city in the world is occupied by huddling in the back seat of a car, working on a laptop or reading a newspaper.
For me, this was the single most significant drawback to life in Jakarta. I have always enjoyed walking – particularly in an unfamiliar city – with a laptop or a notebook until something I want to say has achieved some cohesion and has coalesced into something that might be worth publishing. Then I’ll find a suitable bar, cafe, saloon, or lounge where I’ll find a corner where I can plug in and do my work. Somehow driving around just doesn’t work the same way. The One Tree Bar and The Front Page and Faces in Jakarta worked well. All knew me, all knew where I liked to sit and what I’d like to drink; but somehow, driving there just wasn’t the same as walking.
But then there’s Singapore.
This city-state at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, almost precisely on the equator, is only about a ninety minute flight from Jakarta. Apart from the climate, the two places couldn’t be more dissimilar. Singapore always reminds me of a science-fiction city. It’s planned, orderly, logical, spotless, regulated; it is – particularly if you step off the plane from a developing country – astonishingly wealthy, with cutting-edge technology employed by everybody in government, personal life, and business. The streets are clean and the sidewalks are broad and shaded; walking in Singapore is as pleasant and expected as it is in Paris. There are parks and green spaces, benches under shade trees to escape the tropical sun and well-thought-out cafes where one can sit and watch the city life, have a drink and even plug in a laptop,
But it’s the pedestrian-friendly aspect of Singapore that inspired the title of this article. While my life in Jakarta was essentially sedentary, with chauffeur-driven transportation everywhere, my monthly or more frequent trips to Singapore were so conducive to walking about that I eventually overdid it.
All my life I had been fairly active; from my childhood hockey through early adulthood movie stunt work, and my rather scattered later careers, I have always moved around quite a bit. So when I had a few hours to spare in Singapore, I would always walk; sometimes from Bugis Village to my hotel off Orchard Road; or from my hotel down to Chinatown or Raffles Hotel for an exorbitantly priced drink at the Long Bar where the Singapore Sling was invented. By the end of a glorious day of strolling around, I would begin to notice an ache in my left knee. Naturally I put it down to age and to the fact that I had broken that knee on more than one occasion during my stunt career.
One day after several hours of perambulatory exploration of Singapore, I noticed that not only was my knee giving me real grief, but that I had developed a limp like Walter Brennan’s in Rio Bravo. From then on my left knee was a constant source of irritation. Some days I would scarcely notice it. Other times I would wake up during the night with the joint burning like fire. But it developed that by the end of each day it was stiff and aching; it would take a few minutes every morning to loosen it up, and eventually I needed to carry a cane with me, because it had acquired a tendency to give way without warning,
Osteoarthritis, I was told. Degenerative joint disease. It turns out that as the result of some youthful trauma, probably the time I split the tibial plateau, I had developed this problem. It would not go away and it would not improve. And my life was seriously curtailed. The last thing I needed was to have my physical activities restricted to any serious degree. I had a career that required physical activity…I couldn’t chase down stories –particularly environmental ones – if I couldn’t get out into the field; I had a young wife; I had a new son – who would teach him football and hockey? I couldn’t even travel like I used to; my leg would lock up even in a first-class seat after a few hours, and some of the more esoteric modes of travel to which I was often relegated were simply out of the question.
I knew I was soon to return to Canada to care for my parents who were aged and not very healthy. The only problem was the bureaucratic nightmare in getting my son and wife out of Indonesia and on citizenship track in Canada. We were ready to go for almost a year and simply waiting for visas; our collection of household goods was packed and in storage, waiting to be shipped, and we were camped out in the house waiting for the documents. After having met one more bureaucratic roadblock, I had to go…my parents’ health was deteriorating and they needed me. I consequently left my wife and child to fight the bureaucrats, while I flew to Canada to care for my parents and to re-establish residency so I could once again qualify for Canadian Health Insurance and have my knee and another spinal problem looked at properly. My wife and child were to stay and cut through the red tape while I took care of business in Canada.
While Yolanda and JJ languished in Indonesia, I started to put in the required time in British Columbia to re-establish permanent residency. I made sure that my parents’ lives were on an even keel; I checked with their doctors and lawyer and made sure I was up to date on their physical and financial condition; I took on overseeing their medical conditions, and ensured that I was able to understand and help guide their financial situation. I made sure that they were eating well, taking their medications, getting their exercise, and that the house and yard were taken care of.
And I waited until I was eligible once again for Canadian socialised medicine. In the meantime I had new x-rays taken, so the orthopaedic surgeon would have up-to-date pictures when he examined me. Eventually the day came when I saw the specialist, an orthopaedic surgeon. He knew within 5 minutes that there wasn’t any hope for recovery short of replacing the defective joint with a metal prosthetic.
I’m now on the waiting list. Soon I’m going to have my old knee removed (I wonder if I can keep it in a jar), and a new, bionic joint installed. So, for the time being I’m hobbling around with a cane, parking in handicap-designated spots, and preparing once again to go under the knife. The one thing I keep wondering about though, is whether I ought to get both knees replaced and have them make me a couple of inches taller while they’re at it.